North Pacific council to take up 2014 halibut, groundfish


Charter halibut regulations and groundfish catches top the list of discussion items at the upcoming North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting.

The council, which meets in Anchorage Dec. 11 to 16, is tasked with recommending halibut management measures for 2014 and will have to incorporate the preliminary information on the overall halibut harvest quotas.

At an Oct. 25 meeting, the charter management implementation committee, comprised of charter operators, recommended preferred management measures for Area 2A and 3C, or Southeast and Southcentral waters, respectively.

The committee has suggested analysis of the status quo — a two-fish bag limit for Southcentral, and a one fish, reverse slot limit, for Southeast — as well as other options.

The possible new management tools for analysis — should reduction in charter harvest be required — include an annual limit with maximum size limit or reverse slot limit, and a one fish bag limit with maximum size, for Area 2C.

For 3A, which includes Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and the central Gulf of Alaska, the committee is asking for analysis of a two-fish bag limit with a size limit on the second fish, a prohibition of skipper/crew harvest, an annual limit, and a limitation of one trip per day for charter vessels.

Under the current management, the charter sector in both areas stayed under its guideline harvest level, or GHL, this year, but in Southeast, the catch increased compared to 2012.

The final choice will depend on what the overall halibut catch limit looks like for 2014, and whether or not the new catch sharing plan is in place.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission was expected to offer a preliminary look at the 2014 halibut catch during its interim meeting in Seattle Dec. 4-5, which will provide a basis for the council to look at management measures.

During the early part of the meeting Dec. 4, IPHC quantitative scientist Ian Stewart said the 2012 projections for 2013 had largely been accurate, and that 2013 looked similar. According to Stewart, the stock assessments indicate that the halibut stock is flattening out, and no longer seeing the significant declines in spawning biomass that characterized prior years.

A presentation about Stewart’s models and the halibut stock status will be held Dec. 12 at the Hilton in downtown Anchorage at about 5:30 p.m., or when the council wraps up its work for that day.

In October, National Marine Fisheries Service staff indicated that the new catch sharing plan, or CSP, was on track for 2014 implementation. According to a document provided to the council, it went through a regional review in October, and was transmitted to headquarters for final review Nov. 15.

Whether the plan is in place would also play a role in both the management measures — for instance, captain and crew harvest is already prohibited — and catch available to the commercial and charter sectors based on the percentage splits included in the CSP.

The council will also finalize 2014 catch limits for groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea-Aleutian Islands, or BSAI, fisheries.

The BSAI specifications proposed by the plan team call for similar catches to 2013. The acceptable biological catch, or ABC, for pollock and sablefish would drop slightly, while yellowfin sole and Atka mackerel would increase. Several rockfish species would either hold steady or increase slightly, as would skates, sculpins, and sharks.

In the Gulf, the pollock and Pacific cod ABCs would increase, as proposed. Arrowtooth flounder and flathead sole would decrease, however.

The council is also tasked with looking at other groundfish-related agenda items, including initial review of a transit issue near Round Island, a discussion paper on Gulf of Alaska skates and octopus, and a review of grenadier management to possibly create a new fishery in the BSAI and GOA.

King salmon, observer issues continue

The council is also slated to take final action on possible change to the king salmon bycatch cap for bottom trawlers in the Gulf of Alaska.

The council agreed to a cap in June, and is now working on a trailing amendment to change how that cap works, and specifically how it rolls over, for the rockfish fleet.

Other items on the agenda include a discussion paper on the ongoing Gulf of Alaska tendering issue and possible gaming of the new observer program, and a discussion paper on co-op reporting requirements.

The tendering and gaming discussion paper looks at possible regulatory solutions to that issue. The possibilities include prohibiting tendering, deploying observers on tender vessels, using catcher vessels to monitor tender activity and putting vessels delivering to tenders in the vessel selection pool.

The vessel selection pool requires a vessel to carry an observer for 60 days, as compared to the trip selection pool, which only requires an observer if the trip is randomly selected for coverage. That means a vessel in the trip selection pool can continuously deliver to tenders for an entire season without registering for a new trip that might trigger an observer being on board.

The council will review the 2014 deployment plan for the observer program as well.

The council will also take up Bering Sea crab issues, including a review of cooperative reports and crew provisions and a discussion paper on right of first refusal clarifications.

Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected].

12/04/2013 - 10:26am